Setting as a writing tool is not to be underestimated, though it is possibly the most undervalued of the 3 main elements of fiction. Authors fret over characterisation and plot, but it is setting that anchors the writing and is a great thematic tool. One only has to think of Mordor to know how resonant it is in terms of Tolkien’s themes.
In science fiction and fantasy, setting may not only involve location, it can become the whole world of the novel. Worlds where imagination conquers all. Yet even when it is a fantasy world, familiar details are the things that chime with the reader. The writer who gives purpose to setting by integrating it into the body of the story, shaping the characters and forcing them to interact with the environment it creates, goes beyond simply describing place and time.
I try to do this in my writing. Fro example, in The Obsidian Pebble, Oz Chambers lives in an old house called Penwurt and I wanted to imbue this place with as many qualities as I could. I tried to make it mysterious, a little spooky and full of secrets. An extension, in fact, of the artefacts which give their name to the whole quintet, and a great metaphor for the science-fantasy theme I’ve employed. It is a place where Oz feels safe, but a place he is also in awe of.
When it comes to setting, by all means use the trite and predictable in your first draft and accept the fact that revision will involve you in deep research and contemplation. Use your character’s viewpoint to show what he/she sees, but remember that eyeline view precludes going on about the weather in the next county.
Setting is a tool best used during revision for:
1/ Adding a sense of place that should intrinsically modify your characters actions and behaviour.
2/ Using as a character in its own right.
3/ Being a metaphor for theme.
4/ Perfecting the emotional landscape through pathetic fallacy.
5/ Using all the senses.
6/ Being not a hang-up for first drafting.
Rhys A Jones